I had pretty high expectations of the new brand new SkyClub at the recently opened T4 extension at JFK, if only because of its newness and the fact that Delta is trying hard to expand its presence in NYC.
For starters, the T4 extension is LONG. I was leaving out of gate B20. The SkyClub is located near gate 33ish. It sounds close, but involves numerous moving walkways, just FYI. It’s located in the center of the B concourse, which has over 50 gates. Get your walking shoes on!
But whatever, I don’t mind walking, and I was looking forward to seeing what ol’ Delta had up their sleeve. The exterior of the club is a blue glass sliding door, and a rep was stationed downstairs instructing people to… go up the stairs.
First impression was that the space was light-filled and lovely. The design and layout is fantastic, and floor-to-ceiling windows afford great views on the tarmac and planes in nearly every direction.
After processing that little thought, I head to the bathroom. There was a line inside the bathroom for both the urinals and stalls. There were 2 stalls and 3 urinals – yes, that’s the extent of the men’s bathroom. The place is big enough to hold over 1,000 people and they skimped out on the bathrooms. Whatever, I didn’t have to pee that bad so I went to the bar to get a drink. Trying to get to the bar area was a project. The place was PACKED. While seating was ample, nearly every one was taken. The bar had a line. All the seats near outlets were taken, and the only open seats had tablets encouraging me to order a $15 chicken salad. “We’ll bring it to you,” the screen saver said in flashing letters.
Among all the people, I saw the usual Delta stuff: the packaged cheese, the olives, and Bischoff wafer cookies, Dasani water, etc., etc. In that regard, this SkyClub was like every other SkyClub. There was nothing to signal that this was somehow a flagship location or expanded operation other than its size.
I found an open seat near a busy walkway with no outlets or table and balanced my beer on my knee. In the end, I practically chugged it just to be able to rid myself of the glass and get out of there.
But the SkyDeck! That was a big selling point of this new SkyClub. It was fine. Nothing to write home about. A nice, small little area right outside. When I went today, I was alone out there, but imagine it could get packed during nice weather.
After seeing that, I waited in line to pee, then left. On my way out, I chided myself for not going to the Wingtips Lounge instead since I was in T4 again after only a couple of weeks. Drat.
By the by, if you are the kind of person who would go to the Wingtips Lounge over the new Delta SkyClub, you get me and this blog is totally for you.
Oh! one more thing. While chugging the beer, I opened my Feedly and saw that Skymiles devalued AGAIN today. After a less-than-stellar visit to the new Skyclub, I was thankful Delta is no longer getting my MQDs. Please, for the love of god American, never change. Or, when you change, keep the program mostly intact. You’re the only good one left.
This lounge gets about a 3 on a 10 point scale. Nice try, Deltoid, but no dice.
The award redemption
On October 17, 2013, I headed over to London to see the new Tori Amos musical, The Light Princess, which I highly, highly recommend. I wanted to see the October 18th show because there was a Q&A with Tori, who wrote the lyrics, and Samuel Adamson, who wrote the book, before the show. Also, Tori watched the show with the audience after the Q&A. It was a special treat, and I wanted to make sure to be there on that day. Translation: my dates weren’t flexible, so that did limit my flight options.
I considered biting the bullet and buying a ticket on British Airways. It would earn me American EQMs toward my coveted Executive Platinum status and lots of RDMs. Ticket prices weren’t bad: about $800 R/T. Between the price of the tickets and hotel, and after buying a ticket to Santiago for late November, my finances were dry. Plus, I was done with Delta, and wanted to get rid of some SkyPesos.
Following their recent announcement of a partnership with Virgin Atlantic, I decided to take a look at award inventory. To my surprise, not only was there a flight every day in October, but I had the choice of multiple flights a day. I could even allow myself to get a little picky with flight times. Amazing. I settled on leaving late Thursday night and arriving early Friday morning. That would give me time to check into the Hilton London Bridge Tower early as a HHonors Gold member, take a nap, and get ready for the show at 8pm. Perfect.
Off to London on Virgin Atlantic
Last weekend, I popped over to London to see the first run of the new Tori Amos musical, The Light Princess. To get started for my first Virgin Atlantic flight to Heathrow from JFK, I decided to hit the Wingtips Lounge JFK, which I found on the Priority Pass iPhone app.
Virgin Atlantic also operates the famous Clubhouse at JFK, but I didn’t have a ticket in Upperclass, which would’ve permitted access, but rather just regular ol’ economy.
I took advantage of Delta’s recent partnership with VA to use Skymiles to book this itinerary. For one, I didn’t have enough Skymiles to book two tickets in Upperclass. And two, even if I did, wouldn’t have burned them that way. Skymiles are notoriously hard to use, but where they shine is on partner redemptions. So why not this one? I’ve had my eye on a biz class ticket on Virgin Australia for 150K Skymiles for.ev.er. And I WILL use them for that purpose one day (unless they devalue first, which is totally possible).
Never mind getting to LAX to adding a stopover or open jaw, although it IS possible to route through PPT and AKL on Air Tahiti Nui, but that’s for another post.
The reason I went for economy is to conserve for that future redemption and because I felt like it simply wasn’t worth it. It’s only 5-6 hours to LHR, short than flying to the west coast, and I’d rather redeem the bulk of my points and miles on long-haul business class products, although Upperclass did look really nice.
Anyway, the Wingtips Lounge.
I wasn’t expecting much, as it’s the only other lounge in T4 at JFK. But wow.
The seating is ample, there is a self-serve bar, the snackies were plentiful and featured a hot and cold food buffet, the wifi was blazing fast, the seats were comfy, and the lounge afforded us nice views of our Virgin Atlantic plane on the tarmac.
And really, isn’t that all anyone can ever really ask for in a lounge?
I’ve read lots of reviews of other lounges at JFK/LGA/EWR, but have never even heard of the Wingtips Lounge. Because of this, I sorta assumed it was the bastard stepchild of lounges. You know what they say about assumptions… well, it’s especially true here.
Entrance was free thanks to the Priority Pass Select card through AMEX Platinum Card. After checking in, I grabbed a plate of snackies, a Bailey’s, a rum and coke, and a water.
Wifi was open, so I checked my email one last time before leaving the U.S.
The place was clean and the staff was nice as can be. I felt very welcomed and comfortable. As boarding time rolled around, I found myself so relaxed and content in the Wingtips Lounge, I almost didn’t want to leave. I took a sparkling water and a couple of packaged snacks for the ride across the pond in economy, and will most certainly come back to this lounge if I ever find myself in T4 again. You never know, right?
I’d definitely show up early just to hang out here for a little while.
If you find yourself in T4 at JFK, head to the Wingtips Lounge. It’s just beyond security, and features ample offerings. I LOVED this lounge. It’s everything an airport lounge should be.
What is Bitcasa?
Bitcasa is a service that aims to eliminate external (and to some extent, internal) hard drives from people’s lives. It is a cloud-based storage solution that boasts unlimited storage. Wow. That’s quite a claim.
I found Bitcasa after my latest round of hard drive failure. I thought, there has GOT to be a better way of doing this. A few Google searches later, I found Bitcasa.
And I’m so glad I did. They give you 10GB free just for signing up – enough to back up most phones! I downloaded a program file, and within a few minutes, had it all set up on my Macbook Pro.
Words cannot explain the hateration I feel for this company right now.
I often reference how I’ve been jipped out of numerous signup bonuses. Now a card I never applied for (the Platinum Card) is due for renewal with its hefty $450 a year. I DO use the benefits. All the time. I love being SPG gold, visit the airport lounges often, got free Global Entry, and have booked hotels through Fine Hotels & Resorts. I love flashing that little Platinum Card or Priority Pass Select Card and getting into the lounges, and very much look forward the new Centurion Lounge on an upcoming flight to DFW. In short, I get more than $450 of value out of this card each year.
So I was curious when they sent me an email to call a “special number” to call. In short, in said:
Please call us at 1-800-452-3944 from 8am to 11pm ET Monday–Sunday to discuss how you can get more value from American Express. This special phone number is available exclusively for select Platinum Card® members like you.
I called them and told them how bitter I was for always getting screwed out of signup bonuses. I explained to the agent that I’d missed out on 150,000 Membership Rewards points (100,000 for Platinum and 50,000 for PRG). She checked and said she could offer me 6,000 points as consolation. 6,000? I asked her. 6,000, she confirmed. Which is basically nothing. That’s IT?! I asked her. “I’m very sorry. That’s all I’m authorized to offer you at this time.”
So I basically told her to fuck off (I didn’t cuss at her FYI – just said that was a terrible offer and hung up).
Flash forward to today. I was researching how to book ANA partner flights for a post about using Membership Rewards points, but couldn’t get the option to “activate” on the ANA site because I had a zero balance. I’ll transfer over some MR points, I thought. But I only have about 8,000 of them. The minimum transfer is 1,000 points, so I would’ve lost 1/8 of them just to access ANA bookings. Then I thought, maybe they’ll still give me those 6,000 points.
I called them again, explained it all again. The agent said there’s no record of any of that in my account, but that she’d “make a note.” So there’s nothing you can do?, I asked. Nothing, she replied. I sighed. And thought how much I fucking hate Amex. And how many “notes” there must be on my account because they are somehow NEVER able to help me or provide good customer service. Then I hung up on her.
I know people LOVE Amex and the Membership Rewards program. I do love my accidental Platinum Card, although I feel like it’s a stepchild I never wanted that is actually pretty awesome. And the MR program has its sweets spots, to be sure. But I’d much rather deal with, talk to, redeem, earn, use Ultimate Rewards points – any day. Amex, from my POV, is a seriously lagging and regressive organization that is resting on their laurels is a huge way. Their cards are expensive, their points are “meh” (to me), the customer service is beyond lousy (I love that word), and they got rid of their shopping portal, making it that much harder to earn MR points. Compare that to Chase: reasonable annual fees, valuable points currency, AMAZING customer service, great shopping portal…
OK, ending rant now. Hope this was useful or constructive in some way… to someone… Continuing to think Amex should DIAF… *sighz*
For points and miles addicts like us, posing a question like this is not only highly speculative, but nearly impossible. But let’s give this a shot: if you can have only ONE credit card, which one should it be?
It Depends On Your Goals
This first step to whittling down the huge assortment of cards is to honestly assess your own travel goals. Don’t think about upcoming trips, but the trips you want to take in the future. This will be the foundation for the ONE credit card you should pick.
Do you like long-haul travel in premium cabins? More focused on visiting family and friends domestically? Maybe your company pays for your airfare and you value hotel accommodations more highly than free (or really cheap) flights. Or, maybe you like to take cruises or trains to travel. These are all things to consider. How do you like to travel?
Some cards have great signup bonuses, but terrible ongoing benefits. This is another factor to consider in the quest to choose just one card. I’d throw out any card that doesn’t give some kind of ongoing value. The Citi® Platinum Select® / AAdvantage® World MasterCard®, for example, gives a 10% rebate on redeemed miles each year, up to 10,000 miles. 10,000 AAdvantage miles is worth ~$200 – well worth keeping the card for despite its $85 annual fee. The Chase Hyatt card gives cardmembers a free anniversary night in a Category 1-4 hotel. Similarly, the Chase Priority Club Visa offers a free night annually at any IHG hotel. Considering the annual fee is only $49 a year, keeping this card would be a no-brainer.
There are three basic types of points currencies: some cards generate miles in one program while others offer points that transfer to a variety of programs. Still others feature fixed-value points: you’ll get the exact same redemption rate every time. This can be beneficial because you’ll know what to expect every time. Points or miles that are part of an airline or hotel program can devalue at any time, so storing them isn’t a good long-term strategy. Mileage accounts should be filled up for specific redemptions, then emptied (earn ‘n’ burn) – not treated as a savings account.
You should consider which points currency you’d like to accrue. Are you super loyal to one program? Prefer flexibility? Or maybe you just want to know exactly what you’re getting every single time. This question is right in line with considering travel goals. Which one points or miles currency will fit your travel goals the best?
Break It Down Even More
Club Carlson is still a relatively new hotel points earning program, but they kicked it off right with a couple of generous promotions. First was the 50,000 points from one stay promotion. Then, they ran a triple points promotion on top of the standard 20 points per dollar. Then it got even better.
Many of us were already sitting on hundreds of thousands of Club Carlson points when they announced the debut of the Club Carlson Visa Signature card. Like most hotel-branded credit cards, it offers a signup bonus and a status bump in the program.
This card also adds a unique perk: a free award night when you book two or more nights.
Yes, this means that you can get a two night stay for the price of one. A Radisson Blu in Paris or London goes from being 50,000 points for one night to 50,000 points for two nights. Getting the card was a no-brainer. I added points to my already large stash and doubled their value.
Here, we’ll go over strategies and how to use and book the free night award. Read More
[This post is meant as an broad overview, not an in-depth look into each individual program.]
When it comes to traveling to Europe, which points program has better offerings: Ultimate Rewards or Membership Rewards?
Let’s compare redemptions popular European destinations to see which one comes out on top.
Before we begin though, let’s assume we want the best value for our money overall (points or miles + surcharges) and we want to fly in economy. Here are each program’s airline transfer partners that fly to Europe.
British Airways and United are the front runners here.
Now to the good stuff!
I picked Paris because it’s a pretty common European destination. What’s availability like with Ultimate Rewards and Membership Rewards partners?
With Ultimate Rewards:
Go ahead and throw out Virgin Atlantic since they don’t fly to Paris (they’d be great if we wanted to go to London). Throw out British Airways unless you want to pay the fuel surcharges they impose. The best option in this program for this redemption is United, by far.
I like how United always shows how much an itinerary would have cost if purchased. I like to always make sure I’m getting at least 2 cents of value out of each points. This redemption meets that criteria at 2.5 cents/point. Not much over, but if I really wanted to take this trip, I’d feel good about redeeming at the given rate.
With Membership Rewards:
So many choices: Delta, Aeroplan, ANA, Iberia… this could go a number of different ways.
We can go ahead and throw out Delta. Their new award chart recently devalued and would now costs 60,000 miles. Not bad, same as United, but we can do better.
Aeroplan offers flights in economy for 60,000 miles round-trip, too, but their fuel surcharges can be prohibitive. Throw them out, too.
That leaves ANA and Flying Blue, the program of… Air France. Logic would lead you to believe that Air France would be the best way to get to Paris, right? Let’s narrow this down a bit more.
Sounds pretty reasonable!
Alright, 50,000 miles + $257 isn’t terrible. At this point, it’s between Air France and United, with its price of 60,000 miles + $166. Is it worth it to pay $91 to keep 10,000 Ultimate Rewards points? Since 10,000 Ultimate Rewards points are worth .02 each, or $200, the answer is YES. Air France (Membership Rewards) is winning!
Can ANA have a come-from-behind victory? Even if not, Membership Rewards is the way to go here.
ANA has a distance-based reward award. JFK-CDG is 3,635 miles.
We can see JFK-CDG would be just 22,000 miles each way, or 44,000 round-trip, already saving 6,000 Membership Rewards points over Air France’s 50,000 miles. ANA does NOT charge fuel surcharges on US Airways flights, so for 44,000 miles and a small copay, you could be on your way to Paris!
WINNER: Membership Rewards
With Ultimate Rewards, the best award redemption we could find was on United for 60,000 UR points. With Membership Rewards, the best award we could find was on ANA for 44,000 MR points. By flying on Star Alliance partners through ANA, we save ourselves 16,000 points, which is pretty nice!
This is only ONE example of potentially hundreds. It all depends on availability, surcharges, and your own personal preferences. This example goes to show that it’s good to have a few different points currencies for all the various award tickets that are out there. As always, do what makes me most sense for you and be sure to really dig into the details of your preferred program as there are always little tricks and tips that can get you even MORE value out of them, and, to quote Million Miles Secrets (one of my favorite blogs)- travel BIG with SMALL money! 🙂
My latest book of essays about living and loving in New York City has gotten some great feedback so far – and it could be yours for free!
I’m giving away 5 copies of the paperback version to winners who’ll be randomly selected by Goodreads on September 5th. Here’s the link to enter: http://bit.ly/1dzB9MS
If you don’t want to wait, the e-book is available for $2.99 on Amazon. Click to read the synopsis and some early reader reviews.
Thanks in advance for reading!
Near the end of the trip to Alaska, we drove down to Seward for the day after checking out of the Sheraton, then headed to ANC. The airport is super nice, on the small side, but surprisingly stylish. The first trip was from ANC-DFW, and the second was DFW-AUS, both in AA Main Cabin ExtrAA.
For the leg home, AUS-JFK, I used six 500-mile upgrades to get me and Jay into first class. The upgrade cleared while I was on the DFW-AUS segment, and I got my new seat assignment: 6F. Yay!
We went to Admirals Club across from the gate to wait for boarding.
After a huge rum ‘n’ coke, I boarded with quite a nice little buzz and found seat 6F. Jay was next to me 6E.
The picture doesn’t do it justice, but the seat was nice with wide seats and ample legroom. It was the older first class on the 737 – hardly any recline, but a very roomy seat. I was exhausted after three flights and still managed to sleep. The plane had the old paint job and old logos. It seemed worn, but looked 1000% better than the old coach behind me.
The flight to JFK was a touch over three hours, and soon after ascending, the flight attendants brought around their famous hot nuts. I had mine with a Heineken.
The flight attendants on this flight were amazing. Very professional and a perfect level of attentiveness. I was so struck, I tweeted @AmericanAir afterward to let them know.
I’m sort of in my honeymoon phase with American right now, so I think everything they do is just perfect. And, truly, the way they’ve chosen to restructure has been really wonderful. A part of me doesn’t want them to merge with US Airways. Banish the thought.
Shortly after the hot nuts, lunch was served. I had the option of BBQ chicken or beef salad. I chose the chicken. It was served with sides of broccoli and mac ‘n’ cheese, a cheese roll, small side salad, and a glass of white wine. It was actually pretty tasty, considering. I wouldn’t order it in a restaurant, but it got the job done.
The first class cabin was full, and we sat in the last row. After lunch, I passed out until we landed at JFK. The flight landed on time, we taxied to the gate, then rushed home to pick up Fenwick. He was so happy to be with his pack again.
All-in-all, this was definitely worth using my “stickers” for. The reason I connected DFW-AUS was because I knew I’d have a better shot at an upgrade on the AUS-JFK route as opposed to the DFW-LGA route. That probably would’ve had a newer, better plane, but EXPs frequent that route and my chances to upgrade would’ve been pretty dismal. I’m happy I chose this routing. I got 1,000 miles for the 190-mile connecting flight (190 @ 500 min = 100% bonus) AND got upgraded on the flight home.
I love how on each flight I learn a little more about American’s company culture. And no, I really don’t miss the in-flight entertainment. I’d rather read and work on blog posts as I don’t have a TV at home anyway.
My next trip with American is in November to Santiago. It’s got a damn crazy itinerary of LGA-ORD-MEX-LIM-EZE-SCL-IPC-SCL-MEX-DFW-LGA – all in a week. But it’ll make me Platinum again next year, earn me around 40K RDMs, 30K EQPs, and it’s all in first/business. Goal for 2014: make EXP.
I originally found this trip on The Flight Deal for $352 a person from NYC all the way to ANC. I’d just gotten the Citi AAdvantage Select American Express and it came with a $150 statement credit after buying my first American flight. I got two tickets, which came to $704, then was reduced to $554, or about 3 cents per mile – not only would I get to see Alaska for the first time, but that price was positively mileage run-worthy. Not to mention that I’d accrue nearly 20K AAdvantage miles in the process since I get a 100% mileage bonus for being Platinum, which I value at around $400. Schweeet!
I held out hope that some twist of fate would land me an upgrade. But the day before, I checked out the first class cabin, and all the seats were already taken. Well.
Getting to La Guardia was easy enough via taxi, and once there, I breezed through security thanks to Pre-Check. GOD I love Pre-Check! There was no one in the line and it took literally 20 seconds. Right beyond security was the Admirals Club, and a few gates down was D6, our departure gate. We headed up to the Admirals Club using my American Express Platinum Card, had a few drinks and snacks, and I played a little Scrabble (my newest addiction). I didn’t take pictures. It was nearly empty and seating was easy to find. We got an entire huge room all to ourselves with a view of American planes on the tarmac. With that view, a rum & coke, and a game of Scrabble in front of me, I was in heaven.
When boarding rolled around, we went to the gate and I boarded with the other Platinums. It was one of the new planes in the livery, a 737-800 with the controversial new paint job. The first class cabin had 16 seats, but they really were all taken. I guess LGA-DFW (both American hubs) is a popular route. I had seat 8A, at the front – a Main Cabin ExtrAA seat. They advertise it as having more legroom and being more comfortable somehow, but I really didn’t see what the big deal was. I liked being closer to the door… I thought it came with a free premium beverage or something. Nope. They charged me for my white wine and I got one of their “hand made” sandwiches, which was actually pretty good, if a bit messy. They need to work on their packaging/presentation for that. And throw in a free drink to assuage the shame after walking through first class.
Anyway, we sat down and waited to take off. And waited. And then the A/C had to be fixed. Uh oh. TripIt Pro (which I got for free with my Barclay Arrivalcard) sent me an alert that we wouldn’t arrive to Dallas until 3:35. My flight to ANC was at 3:25. Fuck. I immediately researched alternate routes from DFW-LAX-ANC and DFW-PDX-ANC. There was hope, but I’d be getting in several hours late. So…
I tweeted to @AmericanAir.
I told them in advance that I was worried about missing my connection. Before I left LGA, while still on the plane, they wrote me back and said they’d monitor my flight and have me rebooked on the next flights heading to ANC by the time I landed. At that point I was already blown away. Anxious to leave, but soothed knowing I had options. And that’s what really felt the best. Knowing that it would be taken care of.
But then, the maintenance guys were able to quickly fix the problem and we pushed off. Even still, the connection would be tight at just 23 minutes. I feared I’d have to run all the way through Terminal C from gate 36 to 2.
The flight was nice enough. Pretty quick, smooth. Thoughts about “Main Cabin Extra” are above. We got to the gate and I leapt out like a gazelle ready to run. Someone called my name as soon as I walked off the jetway. It was a lady from American, standing in front of a cart. WHAT?! She hugged me, and told me to hop in and DROVE US TO THE GATE. I was blown away by this level of service. She said she recognized me from my Twitter picture and had been contacted about the tight connection. If we missed it, she had backup flights ready to go. Amazing, amazing, amazing.
We pulled up to C2 just as boarding began. Even with no upgrades, I was stunned at the level of service and professionalism American showed me today. Me, a lowly Platinum!
So now I’m on flight 279 to ANC on an old Boeing 757. Man, you can really tell this plane has seen better days. It’s got the old first class cabin, but I’ve got a great seat with tons of legroom – seat 10F – again, in Main Cabin Extra. And we’re flying over the Rockies right now. It’s gorgeous. And my birthday is in just a few days. Maybe I can convince American to upgrade me on the flight home. 🙂 I must say, I do like the new planes a lot better than the older ones.
But wow. I am just so very impressed with American right now. Would Delta have done this? That’s what I keep asking myself. But it doesn’t matter now. I’m resolved to keep flying American. I want to be a Million Miler and everything. And EXP next year. This trip to ANC puts me about 10K closer. Now if I could only repeat it nine more times.
Big kudos and thanks to American. They transformed a potentially stressful trip into a great customer service experience. As I heard EXPs being thanked, I wanted to be one of them. Soon enough. Wish I’d gotten in on that promo they had up for a few hours. With my upcoming trip to Santiago and Mexico City, I would’ve been a shoe-in. But that was a fluke. Small moves, small moves.